Monday, April 30, 2012

CHISINAU - 4 years later

We arrived in Chisinau on April 6th, but were only able to see the city on the 8th, after Vadul Raskov. I felt many things have changed. First, I saw more businesses and even two big shopping centers. For example, next to our hotel in 2008 there was an abandoned house - now there is a travel agency. But as people told me, more businesses does not exactly mean economic progress. Moldova's economic stagnation seems a constant, as the country primary source is agriculture and there is no real industry per se. Political problems also don't contribute much. The country didn't have a president for two years, and now the political direction is towards getting closer to Romania, creating a "Romanification" of Moldova. For some, it isolates the Russian speaking population, especially job-wise. For others, it means a political opening towards democracy, running away from (still) authoritarian Russian influence.

As an outsider, it's difficult to have a correct assessment of the situation, but it's clear that Moldovans are still very much divided.

On our second day in Moldova, we drove over Chisinau for some city footage I needed, and had lunch at Marina Shraibman's place. 

Marina cooked us delicious mamaliga, fish and salad. Lara especially loved the tea made from a dogwood tree. Melina played the piano and fed the birds outside the kitchen's window. 

We drank homemade wine and celebrated our arrival. Marina talked about Ihil Shraibman and showed us her private library of Yiddish books.

Marina is a very special person, generous and passionate. She belongs to a Jewish community that is also struggling for survival, as we later observed.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

VADUL RASKOV - reminiscences

Our main goal in this trip was to get to Vadul Raskov and see the long lost grave of my great-grandparents Meyer and Ene Tolpolar. After 4 days and 5 planes we couldn't wait any longer. We arrived at Chisinau on April 6th at 5:30PM and the next morning were in our way to the abandoned cemetery. Our guide Natasha coordinated everything, and together with the grave restorer Pavel Tuev we were also accompanied by Marina Shraibman. Marina is the widow of the last Yiddish writer in Moldova, Ihil Shraibman, who was originally from Vadul Raskov. We were glad to have her company not only in this day, but on the next days in Chisinau as well. Marina cherished us with her passion and sympathy. She automatically bonded with Melina as well.

The 3 hour trip was good to catch up with Natasha and coordinate the next 3 days. We have missed 2 days in Frankfurt and now there was a lot to do.

The weather channel showed rain for all days we were in Moldova. Luckily this first day it didn't rain. Had it rained, we would not be able to reach or leave Vadul Raskov (at least for a day). At some point, the paved road gives place to sand, and once we get to the village, there are windy tiny roads made of rocks and gravel, going up and down. The cemetery is a difficult place to get to, but once you see the graves from the distance, it's touching. I felt like we were in the corner of the world, isolated from everything, in the brink of the Dniestr river. The cemetery is indeed completely abandoned. We got off the van and a few goats followed us. We could see horses and cows in the distance, and a few locals.

Natasha could not remember where the grave was, so we started on the top of the slope, going down towards the river. However, from the top, I saw it. It was right there, easy to spot as it is much bigger than the others and the last one before the river.
I cannot express how tough it was to coordinate and shoot the scenes we wanted, plus take care of Melina, plus absorb everything that was happening. I only was able to digest what happened on this day before going to sleep, hours later. It was then I understood it. For the first time I understood a feeling that my grandfather had when his parents died. It's a big grave, where a couple is buried, a rarity at that time. Most graves were for singles only. Being at Vadul Raskov I understood that my grandfather and his siblings loved their parents and tried to honor them the best way they could, and more than that, they wanted this monument to be remembered.
The last Jewish presence in Vadul Raskov was in 1957.

I will save more thoughts about this day for the documentary, but the feeling of being there, knowing that my ancestors had been there as well, was indescribable.

I can't thank enough this wonderful group of people who made this day so unforgettably special. I wanted to acknowledge the police officer from Soldanesti Vladimir Drutsa, who, after Natasha, found the grave as well. And Melina was also fantastic. I think she knew that place was sacred. Before we left, she bowed down and picked up two rocks. As I did it when on Oliscani in 2008, we brought these rocks back with us. They are part of our reminiscences.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


If the flap of a butterfly's wings might create atmospheric changes on the other side of the world, what to say of a tornado in Dallas? It created big changes for my wife, daughter and I.

It all started on April 3rd, 2012, the beginning of our trip to Moldova. We were supposed to catch a plane from LAX to Dallas at 6AM. When we get to the airport we find out the flight had changed to 9AM! Better safe than sorry, but we could have used a couple more hours of sleep.

Still at LAX

The flight to Dallas eventually happened, and everything was going well until the pilot announced that a severe tornado had hit the city, destroyed part of the airport and some aircrafts. We were then rerouted to San Antonio and had to wait in the plane for an hour. Nobody knew if we would continue our flight to Dallas or had to stay in San Antonio. We finally were authorized to get off the plane to soon learn that actually we were boarding again - now finally to Dallas. Needless to say that the airport was chaotic, many flights were delayed, people were nervous, shouting, families with babies like ours were also exhausted - not an easy situation for anybody.

It took us 9 hours to get to Dallas, we missed all of our subsequent connections, causing unforeseen consequences to us.

First, there were no more flights to Frankfurt that evening. We had to fly to London and then Frankfurt. That alone was tiring. When we got to London, the security officials took out all of Melina's medicine, saying we couldn't had those, but we could buy substitutes in the local drugstore. It so happened that the local drugstore didn't have the medicine we needed!

We arrive at Frankfurt in the evening of the 4th, missing our flight to Moldova. I was getting ready for that, but to my surprise our luggage was nowhere to be found. Being unable to book a next flight to Moldova and needing to wait for the luggage to arrive, we were forced to go to a hotel. To make things worse, Melina had threw up on us during the flight to London, so we were stinking and unable to change clothes. But glad to have a bed to lay down.

Next day, the 5th: we find out the next possible flight to Moldova is only on the 6th and that our luggage may be coming to the hotel by 4PM. Great, we now just need to wait, relax, eat some real food, etc. But at 4PM, nothing came. 5PM, not a word from British Airways. I called them and the lovely lady says: "your luggage was sent to Moldova" No!!!! And then she said "let me actually try to contact them and see if they can still retrieve your bags and send it over to the hotel".
"Where is our luggage???"

To make a long story short, the 5th was not all about relaxing, but a lot about waiting for a response on our luggage - that finally came at 10:30PM! I felt utterly happy, almost crying. Now we had everything and we knew we were going to Moldova.

Need some hot coffee!!!

Several times during the flight to London, and especially when Melina got sick, I thought of returning to our home in LA. "Maybe it's not this time", "What was I thinking, taking a baby in this crazy long journey?" But no, it was meant to be. All of our misfortune were meant to happen - it was only because we had to stay 2 days in Frankfurt that we got to meet for the first time our long distance cousin Alla Malamoud, who lives in Frankfurt and whose mother was a Tolpolar. It was an amazing meeting of two generations of Tolpolars that finally got together after 85 years.
Alla and Melina

Next day, the 6th: we boarded the plane to Moldova. During the check in, I see what it looked like a convicted man being escorted by two policemen. I pointed it out to Lara. And what were the odds? The prisoner sat next to me in the plane to Chisinau! It was all fine, but I was so exhausted by then that imagined him sticking a knife into my neck, and could not relax during the flight.

It took us 4 days and 5 planes to get to Moldova. I will tell everything about our time there. But needed this big intro so you can understand that this was no usual trip. Much more was yet to come.